Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Wage Garnishment

Wage garnishment is a legal procedure in which an employer withholds a portion of a debtor's earnings to repay creditors. Garnishment is a fairly severe consequence and is usually used only when an employee is seriously behind on their debts.

The types of debts that may be repaid through wage garnishment include:

How Does Wage Garnishment Work?

No matter how far behind a debtor is on their debt, the creditor may still have to schedule a hearing with a court. The creditor must then prove that the debtor owes money and that the debtor has failed to make the required payments.

If the court agrees, it will issue an order requiring the debtor's employer to withhold a certain amount of their paycheck, which may include the federal minimum wage as a baseline. This amount, often called the "garnishment amount," is based on the employee's disposable earnings. The court sends the employer a letter and specific instructions detailing the proper garnishment process.

In writing, the employer then notifies the debtor that wage garnishment is about to happen. Then, the employer follows the court-issued instructions, deducting the specified amount of money from the employee's wages before disbursing the remaining salary.

Wage Garnishment Protections for Employees

There are several protections in place for employees facing garnishment. The federal government and many state laws prevent debtors from becoming impoverished while repaying their debts. Two of the most important wage garnishment law protections are:

  • Employers can only garnish a certain amount of work income. Under the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA), a garnishment sought in federal court may not exceed 25% of the debtor's disposable earnings each week. See the federal wage garnishment calculator and the wage garnishment worksheet for more wage garnishment information.
  • Employees can't get fired because of wage garnishment. Federal law protects you from getting fired simply because your wages are being garnished for a single debt. But, if your wages are being garnished for two or more debts, your employer may be able to fire you.

How To Avoid a Wage Garnishment Order

The best way to avoid a wage garnishment order is to start catching up on your debt before wage garnishment happens. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. If you know you may have trouble paying all your bills on time, you should contact your creditors. Many student loan administrators have a variety of ways for you to avoid default, for example.

A court order can modify child support if you can show that you can no longer afford the payments. Also, the IRS and some state tax departments can help you schedule structured payments to repay your back taxes. Some banks and other private debts may be able to work out more affordable payment arrangements.

Wage Garnishment Court Hearing

If you're unable to work out an alternative arrangement and you see the notice for the wage garnishment hearing in the mail, don't ignore it! Attend the hearing with an attorney if possible. Bring along any documentation you may have about the debt, including proof of attempted payments and attempts to negotiate a different payment schedule, as well as proof of your income and expenses.

During the hearing, the judgment creditor will present their case, aiming to convince the court that you owe money and have failed to meet the required payments. You must prepare to counter their arguments and show your side of the story. The garnishee, typically your employer, may also be there to follow the court's instructions.

Have Specific Questions About Wage Garnishment? Speak With an Attorney

When wage garnishment issues arise, it's hard to determine how to proceed. A lawyer can help determine your rights and request accommodations so that your situation doesn't worsen. Contact a local employment law attorney today for legal advice. A local bankruptcy attorney can also work with you on debt.

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified employment attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select
Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options